A pastor calls the kids to the altar rail for yet another children's sermon and says: "I am thinking of something that is brown, has a bushy tail, and every fall gathers acorns to itself. What am I thinking of?" After a long silence, a young child pipes up: "I'm sure the right answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me."
His name I have forgotten, but the image of him eating at our table is indelible. Every month on the first Sunday he would make his way from the back country to the city of Novi Sad, where my father was a pastor. A fellow Pentecostal, surrounded by a sea of hostile nonbelievers and Orthodox Christians, he came to our church for communion.
A few years ago I bought a book called The Managed Heart on the basis of the title alone. At the time I was deeper than a decade into full-time parish ministry, serving a congregation of some 400 souls in rural north Georgia. My heart was sore from overuse. I had what is sometimes called "compassion fatigue," and I was looking for anything that might help.
My study, where I read and write and pray, is set on a cliff overlooking a mountain lake. Each morning I sit at my window and watch the lake fill up with light. It is a quiet place and spacious. A mountain chickadee and red-breasted nuthatch show up most mornings, embroidering the silence with their chatter.
I have often been compared to my father. Though I neither look nor sound like him, I seem to have his temperament, some of his intellectual gifts and some of his vices. We have also followed a similar trajectory in our vocations.